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IAF F-16 crashes - fleet grounded until further notice

February 25, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Yesterday afternoon an F-16 fighter jet crashed in the northern West Bank. The pilot, an experienced Major (Res.), reported engine trouble during a routine training flight, and ditched the plane when he was unable to get the General Electric engine back to full power.
The plane crashed into into the side of a water reservoir near Moshav Ram-On,not far from Jenin, causing no injuries or damage. Army divers searched for pieces of the wreckage in the reservoir.

Due to the distance from the runway and the harsh weather conditions, the plane could not attempt an emergency landing.

The crash was the first in more than two accident-free years in the air force. It happened 30 minutes after the plane took off from Ramon base in the Negev on a training exercise. The pilot first reported an engine fire.

"The engine stalled and the pilot made two attempts to restart it ... when the plane dropped from 4,000 feet to 2,000 feet, he abandoned it," said Colonel Itay Alon, the air force safety chief.

Until the results of the investigation are known, the Air Force has grounded all Arrow models of the F-16, which have been the backbone of the Israel Air Force since the early 1980s. In 1983, Israel bought 75 F-16s for $40 million each. In 2000, Israel signed a contract to buy another 50 aircraft, for $50 million each.

Six Israeli F-16s have crashed since September 1997, including three in 2000. On February 2, 2000 a pilot ejected from his F-16 in the Negev after the engine failed mid-flight. On March 27 of that year, F-16 pilot Major Yonatan Begin, the grandson of late prime minister Menachem Begin, and his navigator Captain Lior Harari were killed when their plane went down in the Mediterranean off the coast of northern Israel during a training exercise. The cause of the crash was believed to be a loss of orientation by the flight crew.

The last accident in the Israel Air Force occurred on May 11, 2000, when a stork hit the plane during takeoff. (note: this mishap is yet unconfirmed)